#276. Four Things the Midwest Must Do

Posted on | The Agurban

Mark Drabenstott, Director of the Center for Regional Competitiveness at the Rural Policy Research Institute, recently wrote a new report on rural development, entitled Past Silos and Smokestacks: Transforming the Rural Economy in the Midwest.

Drabenstott writes about the need for the Midwestern United States to develop a new development strategy to succeed and compete in a global economy. Below is an excerpt of four keys outlined by Drabenstott:

Four Things the Midwest Must Do


The rural Midwest needs a new development strategy to transform its economy. The deep economic downturn makes this urgent; globalization makes it important. The new playbook must take into account the new imperatives of the global economy. It must build on the enduring strengths of the rural Midwest-among them its fertile countryside, its hardworking people, its livable communities, and its central location in the nation. Yet the new playbook must go much further. It must do four things:

· Help rural communities and counties think regionally to compete globally. Critical mass is essential to sustaining a competitive edge in global markets, and many of the best economic opportunities only emerge on a regional scale. “Regional scale” is hard to define, but for much of the rural Midwest, it probably means at least a dozen counties, more in more sparsely settled areas. An even greater challenge than any definition of region will be creating the conditions under which neighboring communities give up decades of competition and instead partner on a new economic future.· Focus public investments on transforming economic opportunities. Each multicounty region in the rural Midwest has a unique competitive edge in global markets. The key to sustained economic prosperity is to focus scarce public dollars on projects that unlock a region’s unique economic potential while leveraging returns from private sector investments. Investments in transforming opportunities-those that connect the rural Midwest with big new markets-will be especially prized.

· Spur both innovation and entrepreneurship. Innovation and business starts are the new measures of economic success. The Midwestern countryside is dotted with some of the very best engines of innovation in the nation-a proud legacy of outstanding public universities. These engines are powerful, but not enough of that power is hitting the ground of the rural Midwest economy. Thus, new “transmissions” are needed to translate innovation into economic progress throughout the countryside.

· Change the business culture and recycle wealth. The business climate in the rural Midwest today is tilted toward business recruitment. The business climate of tomorrow must do much more to encourage homegrown companies. Entrepreneurship and risk taking must, therefore, become embedded not only in public policy, but also in schools and Main Street coffee shops. Capital will be a critical ingredient for these new companies. Fortunately, the rural Midwest has a lot of wealth. However, new mechanisms will be needed to recycle that wealth into new companies.

As Drabenstott writes, “The rural Midwest must move past silos and smokestakes. Globalization has changed the field of play, demanding the region find a new playbook.”

For the complete report, visit here.